Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Places In The Heart (1984) - ★★★½

Robert Benton's Places In The Heart is a charming, honest and encouraging movie that displays the will of a human being at its very best. Sally Field is superb in the role of Edna Spalding, a widow that risks losing everything when her husband is tragically killed in the great depression. With cinematography similar to that of Gone With The Wind, this film not only embodies the beauty of the South, but displays its ugly side of racism and poverty.

Edna was left with over $3000 in debt, two young children, no job or experience in work and no place to turn to. Fields' performance was powerful in the way she displayed so much desperation and fear. When all seems hopeless, a starving and homeless negro man named Moze (Danny Glover), appears on her doorstep for work and a place to stay. With Moze's extensive knowledge of cotton farming and Edna's 30 acres of land, the two develop a scheme to farm cotton and bring in the first shipment so that she can earn the money to pay her debts and he can live a soundly. However, this is an extremely unlikely feat to achieve as the depression cut the price of cotton down to three cents a pound and many cotton farms had to forclose. Thus why the bank strongly insisted she take in Mr. Will (John Malkovich), a man blinded from the Great War.

Places in the Heart is one of the most uplifting films I've seen. I cannot stress the similarities Edna Spalding and Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With The Wind) have in terms of personal growth as human beings. Both had no knowledge or experience of how to farm or earn money, but when the time called for it they did everything in their willpower to keep their heads above water and survive. However Scarlett was selfish, whereas Edna is genuinely kind and selfless. That was the most enjoyable aspects of this film; seeing Edna evolve into a strong and independent woman that could do the impossible.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Raging Bull (1980) - ★★½

From legendary director, Martin Scorsese, is Raging Bull. Otherwise known by most critics as one of the greatest films of all time. What makes this stand along side films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With The Wind and Schindler's List? You tell me, I couldn't find anything remarkable about Raging Bull, except the fact that it is unforgettable.

Robert DeNiro plays a spouse abusing, paranoid control freak Jake LaMotta. He's one of the best middleweight boxers of his time and in many scenes destroys his opponents by breaking their nose, opening their foreheads and knocking out teeth. Shot in excellent black and white, the sweat, blood and camera flashing of the fighting is brutally beautiful. DeNiro was nothing short of outstanding in his portrayal, this arguably being his greatest acting achievement; having won Best Actor for Raging Bull in 1980.

Joe Pesci played LaMotta's brother/manager Joey; also a spouse abusing paranoid man but not quite as inhumane as his brother. This film needed a character such as Pesci to play Joey because he commanded such screen presence. He provided the little entertainment that this film entailed. Cathy Moriarty played Vicki, Jake's wife. She at first put up with his abusive ways, but then grew to hate and antagonize Jake. She was reckless and had no emotion projected through her voice except anger which makes it hard to find sympathy for the girl.

As a whole, Raging Bull had all the elements of a masterpiece of cinema. It is a biopic with great acting, cinematography and many memorable scenes. What I couldn't understand was how come it couldn't suck me into the story of Jake LaMotta. I found I just didn't care about the characters. None of them were interesting enough to make me want to pay attention. In the end, DeNiro quotes Marlon Brando's masterpiece, On The Waterfront. "You don't understand I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." 

It was in hearing this quote that I realized that THAT is Raging Bull was missing. What it needed was something memorable besides brutal fight scenes and acting. There was no good moral to the story. Nothing to teach the audiences after they saw the film. Basically it was just Jake LaMotta fighting. Fighting with everyone around him. In the end he landed on his feet. The end. There's nothing inspiring, nothing memorable. It fell flat and lacked a purpose. It seemed like a film that was made for the heck of it. When Raging Bull lost Best Picture to Robert Redford's Ordinary People, it was seen as one of the biggest upsets in Academy Awards history. I for one absolutely agree with the decision to award Best Picture to Ordinary People, because it had meaning and purpose behind it, whereas Raging Bull did not.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Das Boot (The Boat) (1981) - ★★★★★

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Writers: Wolfgang Petersen, Lothar G. Buccheim (Novel)
Stars: Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, Klaus Wennemann

The tension, THE TENSION! Das Boot is a movie that had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. We see the claustrophobic, disturbing life of the men who lived and fought in Submarines in WWII through the eyes of the German side. 

They are led by Captain Henrich played by Jurgen Prochnow. He is a quiet, strong and capable leader that has seen many battles. There is no attempt made to convince the viewer to like or dislike him. That's refreshing; usually films try to introduce the main character as some hero with good qualities. Yes, this man has good qualities, but we don’t really get to know who he is as a person. Lieutenant Werner (Gronemeyer), the Captain’s right hand man, however is likeable. He cares about the crew and even more so for surviving through the war, whatever it takes. The chief engineer, Fritz Grade (Wennemann), is the most selfless and courageous of all the men.

What makes this film so unbelievable is that it is essentially an anti-war film, however that was not the purpose of the film. It showed that German soldiers were only following orders because they had to in order to get home. It is masterful the way each crew member is shown as a human being with their own fears, own problems, own story; and yet they are all thrown together trying to help each other survive.

The cinematography of the ocean and the sunsets were beautifully captured, as well as storms and rough seas. Seeing submerging submarines and exploding firebombs underwater is remarkable considering the film was made in 1981. I was dumbfounded at the technology used to make it feel so real. In order to see the inside of the submarine, the camera pans through the quarters moving steadily through halls and around crew members which helped create a claustrophobic, rushed atmosphere for the viewer.

There are many things to admire about this movie. Personally, I loved the honesty that was displayed. When the Germans blew up a British submarine they were given the option to save them, but instead they let them burn. As disturbing as this was, I appreciated that it followed historical accuracy over what the typical Hollywood action flick would have. Like I said, there was no true message that this movie intended to give to the viewer, we just take what we see. It reminded me a bit of All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), as the message I took from it was that war is not worth getting into to save your country. Das Boot will surely go down as one of the best war films ever made.